The What Van? Award-winning brand has established a foothold in the medium LCV sector and is targeting further growth, as James Dallas reports.
Upon its arrival in 2016 Citroen’s former UK boss Alex Smith described the Dispatch as the brand’s most important launch for two decades.
Economical, practical and versatile, the Dispatch can hold its own against formidable competitors such as the Ford Transit Custom, Renault Master, Vauxhall Vivaro and VW Transporter – not to mention its sibling models, the Peugeot Expert and Toyota Proace that share its platform in Sevelnord, France.
The Dispatch impressed What Van? so much we crowned it our LCV of the Year for 2017, alongside the Expert and Proace, and the models retained the Medium Van prize for 2018.
So having propelled Citroen back into the heart of the crucial medium van segment where it had underperformed for too long with the previous generations of the van, the Dispatch is now becoming firmly established. Last year it was the sixth most popular medium van in the UK, snapping at the heels of the fifth-placed Mercedes-Benz Vito (6,472 units sold) with sales of 5,897, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), and was the 18th best-selling LCV in the market overall.
Kris Cholmondeley – Citroen’s head of business sales – explains that the new Dispatch has been a great success for the manufacturer in more ways than one and acknowledges that What Van?’s recognition of the model’s qualities had assisted this process.
“Firstly, it has proved to be a phenomenal sales success, with UK sales rising 32% compared with 2016, while sales in the medium van sector overall fell by 10%,” he says.
“Then that success was endorsed by What Van? with the new Dispatch winning the magazine’s Light Commercial Vehicle of the Year award in 2017, and Medium Van of the Year in 2017 and 2018.”
“Independent endorsement of any of our vehicles is always a great help to our dealer and fleet sales teams, and the What Van? Awards no doubt helped underline the stylish new Dispatch’s class-leading credentials.”
Cholmondeley claims the Dispatch has continued to perform strongly this year, helping to push up Citroen’s sales by 5.4% in the year to the end of April in a market that has dropped by 2.3% overall.
But it’s not all about the brand’s medium van – Citroen used the Commercial Vehicle Show in April to introduce the industry to its revised Ready To Run conversion programme, which is based on the Relay large van and currently includes tipper, dropside, box, Luton, low-floor Luton and curtainside versions.
A year ago Citroen and its PSA partner Peugeot brought its conversion operations together under one roof.
Richard Abbott, head of Specialist Fleets (the two brands supply 500 vans between them a year for ambulance conversions used for patient transfer services) tells What Van? Citroen and Peugeot assessed all their converter partners 12 months ago for quality and servicing support before drawing up a revised approved list.
Three of the higher-volume partners are Ingimex, which converts dropsides and tippers, JC Payne, which provides Luton, box and curtainside bodies, and Trucksmith, which produces the low-floor Luton. Trucksmith produces similar bodies for Renault and also Vauxhall, a brand PSA bought last year.
Tipmaster is still validated to carry out tipper conversions but does not have the capacity to do as many as Ingimex, says Abbott.
All models in the Ready To Run conversion range conform to either European Whole Vehicle or National Small Series Type Approval and all are also included in the Citroen LCV price list and carry a three-year/100,000-mile warranty covering the whole vehicle.
Abbott explains that each conversion is issued with a Cap ID code, which means they are viable for leasing to customers.
He says historically Citroen has turned out 1,300 conversions a year but that the ambition was to increase the rate to 3,000 by the end of 2019. He also remarks that Citroen has traditionally been more successful in targeting SMEs while Peugeot has focused more on large fleets.
With PSA’s purchase of Opel/Vauxhall it would seem to be a logical move for the French brands to make use of Vauxhall’s existing conversion facility at its plant in Luton, but this is not a matter Citroen was willing to confirm at the time of writing.
An initiative Citroen is driving through its dealer network, which consists of 175 sites, including 65 Business Centres dealing with fleets of up to 50 LCVs, is its Free2Move fleet management operation for leasing customers. Cholmondeley says the system has been inherited from larger fleets with the aim of reducing running costs.
“Free2Move introduces telematics to SMEs to reduce downtime,” he says, adding that the aim is to open another 10 Business Centres this year.
Cholmondeley also reveals that a new Berlingo light van will be launched this year but stresses that the current model, despite being long in the tooth, continues to do very nicely. He adds that interest in the Electric Berlingo will “gather pace” in 2019 but forecasts 300 registrations for this year.